Protracted drought in southern Australia has degraded the system function of the Coorong estuary and intensified resource competition among forage fish species. The present study investigates the gut content, prey composition and dietary overlap of three forage fishes: smallmouth hardyhead (Atherinosoma microstoma), Tamar River goby (Afurcagobius tamarensis) and sandy sprat (Hyperlophus vittatus) influenced by environmental variation in the Murray Estuary and Coorong. The prey species identified in fish stomachs were dominated by crustaceans (amphipods, ostracods and harpacticoids), but nematodes and acanthocephalans were also common in all forage fishes. The diet of the sandy sprat and Tamar River goby highly overlapped (α = 0.8) in the Murray Estuary and all three forage fishes showed potential diet overlap (α ≥ 0.6) in the North Lagoon. Spatiotemporal variation of prey diversity was observed in smallmouth hardyhead while temporal variation of prey diversity was observed in sandy sprat and Tamar River goby. Overall, the prey abundance was temporally variable and predominantly regulated by salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, water transparency and chlorophyll a in the Murray Estuary and Coorong. This study adds to our knowledge on dietary overlap and resource partitioning among small-bodied forage fishes mediated by environmental factors in the Murray Estuary and Coorong.
- Forage fish
- Gut content